Local View: Post-pandemic, remove, don't replace, Lines 3 and 5

Sean MacManus.jpg
Sean MacManus

The decommissioning and removal of Enbridge’s old Line 3 oil pipeline would be a shovel-ready project that would help Minnesota move forward after the pandemic crisis abates. As Minnesotans, we should spare ourselves the upheaval that would result if Enbridge begins to lay any new pipe. Markets are recoiling from the Canadian tar sands collapse. And the long-term threats of climate change aren’t going away, even as Enbridge’s plans for a replacement Line 3 continue to divide the state.

I agreed with what Christy Dolph and Andrew Butts, from the group Science for the People-Twin Cities, wrote in their March 28 commentary in the News Tribune, “Reflect changing world, follow the science for Line 3.” They said that Gov. Tim Walz “must show progressive leadership by denying all permits for Line 3 to protect the future of our state, country, and planet.”

A contrary view, presented by Becky Hall in an April 8 column in the News Tribune, headlined, “Line 3 project needs to be part of what comes after crisis,” touted the Line 3 project as a needed economic lifeline for communities emerging from quarantine. Hall seemed unable to see a world free of fossil-fuel dependence. However, she was not completely wrong that Line 3 could serve communities that have been impacted by the COVID-19 crisis — if it’s dug up and removed, which would be an environmentally sound jobs plan that would unite rather than divide.

Line 3 is running with unused capacity. Enbridge’s claim to need the increased volume a new line would provide is not in line with Minnesota Department of Commerce findings.

In my view, Enbridge hoodwinked the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission into granting a certificate of need for a new Line 3 by painting a grim picture of the old line’s condition while also testifying that it can operate the line safely indefinitely. Why should a manipulative foreign corporation with millions to spend on lobbying, door-knocking, and calling Minnesotans have it both ways? The state could be left holding the bag for what could well become a stranded, unnecessary pipeline asset.


We should remember that the question of removing old pipe arose when Enbridge revealed it intended to abandon 282 miles of pipeline. Landowners balked at the idea that an abandoned pipeline on their property was the only option. Enbridge insisted it would be too risky to remove the old line given its proximity to the rest of the mainline corridor. This narrative seemed to shift when pipeline workers openly said they could in fact remove an old pipeline because they had put it in there in the first place.

Seeing the writing on the wall, this giant tar-sands enabler hatched the landowner choice program, among a handful of seeming concessions that seemed meant to entice the PUC to approve its replacement project. The landowner choice program allows landowners to have old pipes on their land removed at Enbridge’s expense after a replacement line is operational. There are many unanswered questions about how the program would operate or what mechanism would be used to enforce it if Enbridge was not treating landowners fairly — or if it fell into financial ruin.

The admission that Enbridge and pipeline workers have the ability to take out what they put in has great value for our current moment. Climate change is bearing down on us, and we all must take responsibility for transitioning to a livable future. What’s required is for people to muster the political will to work together.

Midwestern states have formed an agreement to coordinate the reopening of their economies in response to the pandemic. We share much in common with our neighbors. In Wisconsin, we see controversy where Enbridge’s Line 5 is being expelled from the Bad River Reservation, yet the planned reroute is still within the same watershed. Numerous private landowners would bear the weight of that decision. In Michigan, Enbridge’s heavy-handed tactics are on display as it forges ahead with a plan to place Line 5 in a tunnel under the highly sensitive Straits of Mackinac.

Would it not be better for everyone if Line 3 and Line 5 were decommissioned and removed?

Sean MacManus is an artist who lives in Duluth.

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